“Asking Me Lies”


Do you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?  It’s the question Johnny Rotten (nee, Lydon) asked at the end of the final Sex Pistols concert in the 70s.  (“Final,” of course, until they reunited with original bassist Glen Matlock in the 1990s.  I saw them in L.A.; it was awesome.)  That’s kind of the feeling you get from “Asking Me Lies.”

Not like you’ve been cheated by the song, mind you.  This is a fabulous song by an even more fabulous band.  (The Replacements, the true voice of my generation, remain to this day Criminally Underrated.)  But the narrator of the song–who for argument’s sake lets just agree to assume is the ‘Mats lead singer and main songwriter Paul Westerberg–is pointing out there is something of a disparity in the world: “The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting drunk.  In a black and white picture, there’s a lot of gray bunk.”  He’s feeling just a little cheated.

Can’t blame him.  Nearly thirty years on, this song is still relevant.  He is still getting cheated (most recently by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which still hasn’t admitted the Replacements).  We all are.  We are living in a fucking Orwell novel; I’d feel less dystopian about things if the Cheeto in Chief had not literally said that what we are seeing and hearing is not what is happening.  (For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, google it; I’m not kidding.)  The gap between the ultra wealthy and the rest of us just keeps growing.  The climate has gone to hell, or at least it feels that way.  There’s even word that the Trump-driven EPA wants to relax rules governing the restrictions on asbestos.  Asbestos.  You know, that horrible thing that causes mesothelioma, aka the disease that killed Warren Zevon way too soon.  There’s more mass shootings, more public bigotry, more of everything that’s bad.

I get that this is part of the political cycle.  The price we are paying for having had a black president is this spray-tanned yahoo who’s only goal is to undo any and everything that has Barack Obama’s name on it.  And it will pass.  If nothing else, we’ll get a new president at the next major election, although I think it will happen sooner with a proper impeachment.  The bricks for that are falling into place slowly, but Mueller is building the wall that Trump promised.  Too bad for him it’s going to be a wall that closes in around him.  And for every step backwards, there will be a commensurate step forward.  It’s just kind of hard to remain zen about the whole thing when all this injustice and unfairness and damage is being wrought with the United States’ stamp of approval, even if it is just nominal.

I have to admit, I didn’t really expect a political rant when I chose this song.  I heard it this afternoon on my way to buy grapes and strawberries on sale.  It’s kind of stuck with me ever since.  But the sadness and anger lends itself to the times.  They are indeed “telling you questions and asking me lies.”  Just don’t expect me to shut up and take it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


I wish everyone–coupled, single, or otherwise–a Happy Valentine’s Day. If you are in a couple, please remember to celebrate your love the other 364 days of the year. If you are single, don’t let social pressure make you feel bad that you’re not in a couple today. Love is not just romantic. If you are otherwise, well. . . have fun doing whatever the heck it is you do. Be sure to share all the love today with the rest of your family, your pets, your friends, and anyone else who makes you happy (but don’t violate any restraining orders, please). Love is everywhere, all the time, and it really is all you need.

But the Replacements never hurt, either.

My Top Five Bands: Number 3


I don’t actually care what anyone else says.  They can enshrine Nirvana and Kurt Cobain as the Gen X spokesmen all they want.  They’re wrong.  It’s the Replacements, led by the incomparable Paul Westerberg.  And this is our theme.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not knocking Nirvana or Cobain, or their relevance to my generation.  But the simple fact is that the Mats were there first, and they captured the mixed emotions of growing up in this world far more poignantly, in my opinion.  Westerberg’s lyrics are sad, angry, sarcastic, ambivalent, tender, and often confused.  The music was great, if a little shambolic.  Tommy Stinson, Chris Mars, and Bob Stinson (later replaced by Slim Dunlap) just barely cohered most of the time, but it struck all the right emotional chords.

Of course, the Replacements were always their own worst enemies.  They were terrific and talented, and Westerberg had major Pop aspirations.  But they were also immature, unreliable, and inconsistent, mostly due to excessive drinking.  A live Mats show could either be transcendent or trash.  Their lack of commercial success has consigned them to the background, but I think they deserve to be pushed into the spotlight.  If Kurt Cobain were still here, I’m sure he’d be happy to share.

“Achin’ to Be”


For some reason this afternoon, I started thinking about some crappy things that happened in junior high.  It was right after my afternoon nap, and it seems to have left me unsettled.  (Or maybe it was the nap; I could just be sleep-lagged.)  I always feel sad when I think of that time.  I was such an awkward kid–simultaneously too sheltered and too smart for my own good.  I tried so hard to fit in, to wear the cool clothes, to be liked and popular.  But what I couldn’t realize then was that I didn’t fit with the mainstream.  My personality and intellect would always keep me kind of on the fringes.

And kids are so cruel.  I was ignored and rejected by a lot of people before I found a circle of friends that accepted me for the weirdo I was.  I can’t even really say I was bullied; although there were a couple of rotten apples that gave me a hard time, I was mostly invisible.  Add in all the hormones and insanity of puberty, and you’ve got a toxic mix of insecurity that I’ve never quite purged from my system.  I suspect most of my feelings of inadequacy stem from this time in my life.  Whenever I’m reminded of it for some reason, I feel that old not-quite-good-enough feeling.

The Replacements are a good tonic for this feeling.  This song in particular reminds me that there’s a whole lot of other people who don’t quite fit anywhere, who feel alone and misunderstood by the world.  Aching to be.  Just like me.


Repost: “Valentine”


Too busy to finish formulating my thoughts for tonight, so here’s a classic by one of the Greatest Bands of All Time.


The Replacements are a Criminally Underrated band (at least in the mainstream; musicians and critics worship them).  Paul Westerberg is the voice of my generation.  Our theme: “Bastards of the Young” (maybe for a later post).  His lyrics are some of the finest songwriting ever.  Period.  I tend to conflate the band with the lead singer/songwriter, although I don’t mean to diminish the roles of the other musicians; The Mats couldn’t have existed without them.  But Westerberg has always been the main attraction for me.

As a former English major, words are very important to me; I majored in English largely because I loved books.  I myself am a very verbally oriented person.  Numbers often escape me, but words rarely do.  I’m not especially witty (you have been reading this, so you should know), but I like to think I can turn a nice phrase every so often.  Paul Westerberg turns a nice a phrase, on average, once a song.  One of my favorites, one that floors me every time, is from “Anywhere’s Better Than Here”: “They play with your head, but they’ll never stroke your hair.”  I mean, dear god, how do you pack so much despair, heartbreak, and love into just one line?  Westerberg has a knack for it.  “Answering Machine” keeps it coming with increasingly desperate questions about the impossibility of connecting with a human being through technology: “How do you say you’re lonely to an answering machine?”

The disconnect and loneliness of the people who don’t quite fit in is a recurring theme in Westerberg’s songs, coming to a horrifying peak with “The Ledge,” which was written from the POV of a young man about to commit suicide by jumping off a high building’s window ledge (“I’m the boy they can’t ignore.  For the first time in my life I’m sure.”).  That song is from Pleased to Meet Me, which I initially bought because I thought it was the coolest title ever.  Turned out the songs were pretty cool, too.

One of my favorites is “Valentine,” which is chock full of lyrical goodness right from the first line: “Well you wished upon a star, that turned into a plane.”  It’s a boy loves girl from afar story, a high school story of unrequited love.  Or something like that.  It’s clear he’s got a thing for her, but she’s not exactly receptive.  “Are you strung out on some face?  Well, I know it ain’t mine.”  The chorus spells out his longing, “If you were a pill, I’d take a handful at my will, and wash you back with something sweet as wine.”  Westerberg never writes about the driven overachievers; his songs are populated with the slackers and stoners, with dreams they’re pretty sure are never going to come true, but they can’t help dreaming anyway.  Like this guy.  Because at the end he declares “Yesterday was their’s to say, this their world and their time.  Well, if tonight belongs to you, tomorrow’s mine.”  He knows he might not get the girl, and he might not rule the world yet, but he is sure he’s going to win in the end.

Which brings up another song, reminding us that the freaks and geeks at the back of the class might actually have something to say about how the world is run: “You can’t hold our tongues, at the top of our lungs.  We’ll inherit the Earth, but don’t tell anybody.  It’s been ours since birth, and it’s ours already (don’t tell a soul).”

After all, even the losers get lucky sometimes.

Vote Early, and Vote Often


It’s that time of year again, jukebox listeners.

Time to vote for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions!!!!

The list of this year’s nominees is varied and interesting, and I know there are a few shoe-ins.  Nirvana.  (Didn’t I say something yesterday about a generation-defining band?  Yeah, that was them.)  Kiss.  Linda Ronstadt.  Peter Gabriel.  A few others, like LL Cool J and Hall & Oates, have a better than fair chance of making it (although I’m a little surprised Deep Purple is still waiting).  If you do go vote, don’t waste your votes on someone who everyone and their uncle already knows have made the final cut.  No, vote for the guys that for whatever reason might not have enough industry votes.  Here’s a couple of my picks.

I wanted The Meters to make it last year, but they didn’t.  These guys are seriously funky.

Speaking of funky, Nile Rodgers and company too often get lumped in with all the bad Disco.  This is dance music with a brain.

I actually screamed a little when I saw the Mats on the list.  I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since their first release (one of the criteria for being voted in).  If I have to beg for votes, I will.  I will personally knock on people’s doors if that’s what it takes to get people to acknowledge the greatness of this band.  I can count the number of musical artists that have changed my life on my fingers.  The Replacements are one of those artists.

Go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame‘s site to vote.  I plan on visiting frequently for the next few weeks.

Freaky Friday: “Lovelines”


This song isn’t freaky so much for its musical structure or fascinating artistic experimentalism.  No, “Lovelines” freakiness comes from its lyrical inspiration.  One day, while recording the album Hootenanny, the Replacements (who were probably drunk) decided it would be funny to put the personals column in a local paper to music.  Turns out, they were right.

While Paul Westerberg’s laughter might be somewhat mocking, there’s a genuine warmth to this goofy little goof, a studio throwaway that showed a lighter side to the Mats.  They were always better known for both their ramshackle, drunken live performance and their razor-sharp angst; Westerberg’s usual themes of heartbreak, loneliness, and alienation really didn’t leave much room for fun.  (FYI, Hootenanny also contains arguably their most painfully heartbreaking song ever, the masterful “Within Your Reach”.)  So “Lovelines” gives them a rare chance to be young and silly on record.  I’m not quite sure how the song made it onto the final track list, but I’m really glad it did.

As Paul Westerberg became a more proficient songwriter, his sense of humor showed through in more subtle wordplay that was both clever and emotional. But this little silly slice also shows that he could draw inspiration from virtually anywhere.  To me, that’s a hallmark of true talent and creativity.

“I’ll Be You”


I read in Rolling Stone this morning that Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson of The Replacements have reunited to record a couple of new songs for an EP.  Former ‘Mats drummer Chris Mars has also contributed a track.  All proceeds will go to help guitarist Slim Dunlap, who suffered a  debilitating stroke earlier this year.  (The EP isn’t out yet, but I’ll post a shout out when it is.)  I love The Replacements, and I’m sorry this is what brought two of them back together; I’m also sorry that Chris and Paul couldn’t pull their heads out of their asses long enough to work together again.  (I’m making an assumption about their relationship here; they could have just realized that they were both better off not working together, and have repaired their friendship, kind of like McCartney and Lennon.)

Slim Dunlap was the guitarist who replaced Bob Stinson in the ‘Mats lineup after Stinson got booted for drinking too much.  (This would’ve been quite an accomplishment since the ‘Mats were well-known for their drunken appearances on stage–and pretty much everywhere else.)  He meshed pretty well, and didn’t challenge Westerberg for leadership of the band.  He played with them during their commercial and, arguably, creative peak.  Pleased to Meet Me and Don’t Tell a Soul were both released during Dunlap’s tenure.

Westerberg, at least, had sobered up by the time they recorded Don’t Tell a Soul, but the first single still reeks with the alienation and ennui that always marked the best Replacements songs.  “I’ll Be You” is alienation cheerfully sung, an attitude of, “Well, we can’t change it, so we might as well have a good time.”  No one seems to know what “it” is.  “A dream too tired to come true, left a rebel without a clue, and I’m searching for something to do.”  That’s kind of what made Paul Westerberg and The Replacements the true voice of my generation.  They were angry and lonely and alienated, and they didn’t know why.  They had decent homes in the suburbs, cable TV, and shopping malls.  Their parents were either divorced or too busy working.  They played video games and dreamed of doing something interesting with their lives, dreams that were as vague and non-specific as their anger.  Nothing seemed to have any shape or definition.  Ambiguity was the name of the game, but there weren’t any rules.

I know there were other experiences of adolescence in the 1980s.  I know there were people in my generation with genuine ambition, or with something to really be angry about.  But that was my experience, and the experience of pretty much everyone I knew.  A lot of it could be chalked up to being young; teenagers are chronically disaffected.  There’s always been something else beneath the surface, though.  Something dark and unpleasant.  My generation is the first one in a long time whose standard of living does not exceed that of their parents.  We are the generation of lowered expectations.

“And if it’s just a game, then we’ll break down just in case.  Then again, I’ll tell you what we could do.  You be me for a while, and I’ll be you.”